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Sunday, March 31, 2024

What Would a Second Trump Term in the White House Mean for Efforts To Stave off Cataclysmic Climate Change?

How much damage could he cause?


Dear EarthTalk: What would a second Trump term in the White House mean for efforts to stave off cataclysmic climate change? — George B., Saginaw, MI

For years former President Trump has repeatedly made false claims that climate change is a hoax. 

His efforts to negate progressive climate change policies were evident in his first term, when he pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, rolled back environmental regulation, and relaxed regulations on oil and gas drilling.

According to Trump’s allies and advisors, a second term for Trump would mean even more extreme environmental policies. While efforts to fight climate change are stronger now than when Trump first attacked them, he can still do substantial damage.

Trump has said that should he become president again, boosting fossil fuels would be one of his top priorities. Trump’s allies have said that Trump plans to drive forward fossil fuel production, which would overturn rules made to curb planet-heating emissions.


The company he keeps

Want to feel young?

Protect your sleep

Stockholm University

Feeling sleepy can make you feel ten years older. Researchers at Stockholm University have discovered that sleep affects how old you feel. The study is published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Do you ever find yourself longing for the energy and vitality of your younger years?

Feeling young is not just a matter of perception -- it is actually related to objective health outcomes.

Previous studies have shown that feeling younger than one's actual age is associated with longer, healthier lives.

There is even support for subjective age to predict actual brain age, with those feeling younger having younger brains.

The Burden of Getting Medical Care Can Exhaust Older Patients

So what's the answer?


Susanne Gilliam, 67, was walking down her driveway to get the mail in January when she slipped and fell on a patch of black ice.

Pain shot through her left knee and ankle. After summoning her husband on her phone, with difficulty she made it back to the house.

And then began the run-around that so many people face when they interact with America’s uncoordinated health care system.

Gilliam’s orthopedic surgeon, who managed previous difficulties with her left knee, saw her that afternoon but told her “I don’t do ankles.”

He referred her to an ankle specialist who ordered a new set of X-rays and an MRI. For convenience’s sake, Gilliam asked to get the scans at a hospital near her home in Sudbury, Massachusetts. But the hospital didn’t have the doctor’s order when she called for an appointment. It came through only after several more calls.

Coordinating the care she needs to recover, including physical therapy, became a part-time job for Gilliam. (Therapists work on only one body part per session, so she has needed separate visits for her knee and for her ankle several times a week.)

“The burden of arranging everything I need — it’s huge,” Gilliam told me. “It leaves you with such a sense of mental and physical exhaustion.”

The toll the American health care system extracts is, in some respects, the price of extraordinary progress in medicine. But it’s also evidence of the poor fit between older adults’ capacities and the health care system’s demands.

Anti-abortion activists want to use the Comstock Act to ban all abortions in the nation, and most birth control pills and devices as a bonus.

Abortion Rights and the Cold, Dead Hand of Anthony Comstock

THOM HARTMANN for ThomHartmann.Com

Your Honor, this woman gave birth to a naked child!
[Cartoon from The Masses, September 1915.]
The Supreme Court session on March 26 was a loud and persistent warning: America needs to pay attention.

During oral arguments, the Comstock Act was invoked repeatedly by Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Erin Hawley, the wife of Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who was arguing before the court that the abortion drug, Mifepristone, should be banned nationwide.

Now that it’s fairly clear the “sad doctors” argument before the court yesterday was so pathetically weak they can’t use it to ban Mifepristone, anti-abortion activists are talking about finding a case they can push up to the court next year that will allow it to ban all abortions in the nation, and most birth control pills and devices as a bonus.

How do they plan to do it? With the Comstock Act. You could see and hear the set-up of this future court case in Yesterday’s arguments.

Justice Sam Alito said:

This [Comstock Act] is a prominent provision. It’s not some obscure subsection of a complicated, obscure law. Everybody in this field knew about it.

Erin Hawley was emphatic:

We don’t think that there’s any case of this court that empowers FDA to ignore other federal law. The Comstock Act says that drugs should not be mailed… either through the mail or through common carriers.

And Clarence Thomas laid out the possibility of future litigation when he essentially threatened the lawyer for Danco Laboratories, the manufacturer of Mifepristone:

“How do you respond to an argument that mailing your product and advertising it would violate the Comstock Act?” He went onto note that the law “is fairly broad, and it specifically covers drugs such as yours.”

In other words, they want the act enforced today.

Bloomberg news laid it out yesterday:

“Do we think the Supreme Court majority is going to rule on the Comstock Act in this case? The answer to that is no,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California at Davis who specializes in reproductive rights. “Do we think that the Comstock Act is going to come up again at some point in the future? The answer to that is definitely.”

So, what the heck is the Comstock Act and why are Republicans trying to revive it before the Supreme Court and in threatening letters to pharmacy chains?

You’ve probably never heard of Anthony Comstock, a Civil War Union soldier and New York postmaster, who died in 1915. You need to learn about him and his legacy, however, as his long fingers are about to reach up out of the grave and wrap themselves around the necks of every American woman of childbearing years.

Anthony Comstock was a mama’s boy who hated sex. His mother died when he was 10 years old, and the shock apparently never left him; women who didn’t live up to her ideal were his open and declared enemies, as were pornography, masturbation, and abortion. He was so ignorant of sex and reproduction that he believed a visible human-like fetus developed “within seconds” of sexual intercourse.

Comstock spent decades scouring the country collecting pornography, which he enthusiastically shared with men in Congress, and harassing “loose women.” For example, when he visited a belly-dancing show (then a new craze) in Chicago at the Cairo Theatre during the World’s Fair of 1893, he demanded the show be shut down.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Inside the Historic Suit That the Gun Industry and Republicans Are on the Verge of Killing

Endless battle to stop illegal guns

by Vernal Coleman for ProPublica

Twenty-five years ago, Scott King, then mayor of Gary, Indiana, spoke solemnly as he described a new strategy the city was taking to deal with the flow of illegally purchased guns fueling violent crime there.

Undercover Gary police officers had fanned out across the area for Operation Hollowpoint, successfully purchasing guns and ammunition at federally licensed firearm retailers despite representing themselves as suspicious buyers. King presented surveillance footage in an 18-minute video produced by the city.

Inside one pawn shop, a bespectacled clerk and two undercover police officers are shown discussing a 9 mm pistol. After the male officer admitted he did not have the permit required to buy the gun, the female officer accompanying him told the clerk she did. The clerk then suggested she buy the gun on her partner’s behalf in violation of federal gun restrictions.

“Might as well put it in your name then so I don’t have to make a call,” the clerk responded. “The feds are constantly screwing with people.”

The footage, which documented four suspicious purchases at different retailers selling guns, showed “how easy juveniles, felons and other prohibited purchasers can acquire guns from legitimate gun dealers through the use of a straw purchaser,” King said in the video.

The stings formed the basis of the city’s historic lawsuit seeking to hold local gun retailers and major gun manufacturers, such as Smith & Wesson, Glock and others, responsible for illegal sales like those uncovered in the investigation. As part of the suit, the city sought monetary damages and changes in industry practices.

Throw in a free pair of sneakers

Happy Easter


Not having job flexibility or security can leave workers feeling depressed, anxious and hopeless

Bad jobs suck

Monica WangBoston University

Warehouse employees frequently lack control over their
own schedules. Andres Oliveira/E+ via Getty Images
When employees don’t have control over their work schedules, it’s not just morale that suffers – mental health takes a hit too. 

That’s what my colleagues and I discovered in a study recently published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.

As a public health expert, I know that the way our jobs are designed can affect our well-being. Research has shown that flexibility, security and autonomy in the workplace are strong determinants of health.

To understand how powerful they are, my colleagues and I looked at the 2021 National Health Interview Survey, a major data collection initiative run out of the National Center for Health Statistics. We analyzed responses from 18,144 working adults across the U.S., teasing out how job flexibility and security may be linked with mental health.

Common Household Chemicals Linked to Brain Damage

From Furniture To Shampoo


New research indicates that chemicals found in countless household products can damage specialized brain cells.

A team of researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has provided fresh insight into the dangers some common household chemicals pose to brain health. They suggest that chemicals found in a wide range of items, from furniture to hair products, may be linked to neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and autism spectrum disorders.

Neurological problems impact millions of people, but only a fraction of cases can be attributed to genetics alone, indicating that unknown environmental factors are important contributors to neurological disease.

Trump-era tax cuts contributed to a decline in higher ed giving, with fewer Americans donating to colleges and universities

Ending charitable tax deductions for most taxpayers hurt many non-profits

Jin LeeUniversity of Louisiana at Lafayette

More causes competing for fewer dollars
Policy changes brought on by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which former President Donald Trump signed into law at the end of 2017, appear to have led many small-dollar donors to give less money to colleges and universities – or to stop giving altogether.

Individual donations, whether from graduates or people who didn’t attend those colleges and universities, declined by 4% from US$44.3 billion in the 2017-2018 academic year to $42.6 billion two years later. That’s what my colleague, Sungsil Lee, and I found when we examined a decade of data regarding charitable contributions to 660 colleges and universities and adjusted the totals for inflation.

We also found that the Trump-era tax reforms led to a 7% decline in the number of individual donors, after controlling for other factors such as enrollment size and tuition.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Politicians may rail against the ‘deep state,’ but research shows federal workers are effective and committed, not subversive

Public workers are not the enemy

Jaime KucinskasHamilton College and James L. PerryIndiana University

A worker at the National Hurricane Center tracks weather
over the Gulf of Mexico. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
It’s common for political candidates to disparage “the government” even as they run for an office in which they would be part of, yes, running the government.

Often, what they’re referring to is what we, as scholars of the inner workings of democracy, call “the administrative state.” 

At times, these critics use a label of collective distrust and disapproval for government workers that sounds more sinister: “the deep state.”

Most people, however, don’t know what government workers do, why they do it or how the government selects them in the first place.

Our years of research about the people who work in the federal government finds that they care deeply about their work, aiding the public and pursuing the stability and integrity of government.

Most of them are devoted civil servants. Across hundreds of interviews and surveys of people who have made their careers in government, what stands out most to us is their commitment to civic duty without regard to partisan politics.

Whatta deal!

Union made Easter candy


More exposure to artificial, bright, outdoor night-time light linked to higher stroke risk

Turn off the lights?

American Heart Association

People continuously exposed to bright, artificial light at night may be at increased risk of developing conditions that affect blood flow to the brain and having a stroke, according to research published today in Stroke, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association.

Bright, outdoor lights are used at night to enhance the visibility of the environment, improving human safety and comfort. However, the excessive use of artificial light has resulted in about 80% of the world's population living in light-polluted environments, according to the study's authors.

While previous studies have linked increased exposure to bright, artificial light at night to the development of cardiovascular disease, this is one of the first studies to explore the relationship between exposure to light pollution at night and the potential risk to brain health and stroke.

Great weather for a 6-minute ISS flight over Charlestown

Clear sky, cold temp as the International Space Station flies over Charlestown

By Will Collette

The rain is forecast to end later this afternoon, leaving us with mostly clear sky and temps of around 35 degrees.

Just in time for a 5-minute flyover of the ISS starting at 8:19 PM.

It will appear at 10 degrees over the horizon in the northwest and rise to 76 degrees overhead. Almost straight up. Then it will recede and disappear at 30 degrees over the horizon in the east southeast.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for mostly clear skies and a temp as low as 35 degrees.

ISS passes through our skies quite often and I always enjoy seeing it. It passes silently. a sharp bright point of light that appears when it catches the sunlight and then disappears when it reaches the earth's shadow.

6-7 Six minutes is roughly the maximum amount of time it takes for the ISS to make the journey from horizon to horizon. Five minutes is pretty good.

The International Space Station is one of the few manned space ventures we have left and still serves some scientific purpose as well as one place where the US and Russia cooperate. 

NASA maintains a website and an e-mail list that help you keep track of these overflights. You can get yourself added to the e-mail list so you can receive notice the day of an overflight. CLICK HERE to sign up.

I don't post every overflight. I skip those that are less than 5 minutes or appear on nights where weather is likely to spoil the view.

Here is the notice I received from NASA:

Time: Fri Mar 29 8:19 PM, Visible: 5 min, Max Height: 76°, Appears: 10° above NW, Disappears: 30° above ESE

Americans die at higher rates than people in other high-income countries

American exceptionalism. USA! USA!


A new study by researchers at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science (LCDS) and Princeton University reveals that US working-age adults are dying at higher rates than their peers in high-income countries; the UK is also falling behind. The study is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Using annual mortality data from the World Health Organization Mortality Database, the study compared trends in midlife mortality for adults aged 25-64 years between 1990 and 2019 across 15 major causes of death in 18 high-income countries, including the US and UK, and seven Central and Eastern European countries.

Over the past three decades, the study found that most of these countries have experienced significant declines in midlife mortality from all possible causes of death, known as all-cause mortality. 

US improvements, however, were slower and interrupted by recent periods of stalling and reversals, depending on age and sex. As a result, by 2019, the US saw all-cause mortality rates that were 2.5 times higher than the average of other high-income countries studied.

Worsening midlife mortality in the US was driven by several causes of death, including highly preventable ones such as transport accidents, homicide, suicide, and drug overdoses

For example, drug-related deaths in the US increased up to 10-fold (depending on sex and age group combination) between 2000 and 2019, diverging tremendously from other countries.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Prevent fires through better RI forest management

Action for Rhode Island’s Forests

By Megan Cotter / State representative

I am proud to chair the Forest Management Commission and bring some of our rural issues to Capitol Hill. In addition to advocating for comprehensive forest management policies, I am also championing significant investments through the Green Bond fund to further enhance environmental conservation efforts across Rhode Island. 

This includes allocating $16 million for the Green Bond, with specific allocations of $5 million for farms, $5 million for open space preservation, $3 million for local open space initiatives, and $3 million for forest management. 

By leveraging these resources effectively, we can ensure the protection of Rhode Island’s natural landscapes, promote sustainable agriculture, and enhance recreational opportunities for our residents. These investments are essential for preserving our state’s environmental heritage and ensuring a vibrant and resilient future for generations to come.

The Forestry and Forest Parity Act (H7618) is already in place in the majority of states, including most of New England. This underscores the widespread recognition of the that proper forest management is critical to responsible conservation.

Forest management involves planning, identifying problems specific to that forest, and outlining the steps necessary to bring that forest back to health. Just like in a garden, where you may plant three seeds in a single hole and later thin seedlings so one healthy plant can thrive, forests benefit from judicious thinning. A well-maintained forest sequesters more carbon than one that is 25% dead trees.

Might as well call the election for him right now. He has.

Agriculture and the Rhode Island economy


Climate change is shifting the zones where plants grow

Here’s what that could mean for your garden

Matt KassonWest Virginia University

Climate change complicates plant choices and care. Early
flowering and late freezes can kill flowers like
these magnolia blossoms. Matt KassonCC BY-ND
With the arrival of spring in North America, many people are gravitating to the gardening and landscaping section of home improvement stores, where displays are overstocked with eye-catching seed packs and benches are filled with potted annuals and perennials.

But some plants that once thrived in your yard may not flourish there now. To understand why, look to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent update of its plant hardiness zone map, which has long helped gardeners and growers figure out which plants are most likely to thrive in a given location.

Five factors to ensure an infant thrives

For healthier kids

Washington University in St. Louis 

There are basic resources every baby needs for the best possible chance to develop as healthy well-functioning human.

Start with good nutrition, breast milk if possible. That baby is going to need stimulation, lots of looking, reciprocal interactions, exposure to language and interesting stimuli. 

If at all possible, you should live in a place where you don't have to constantly be looking over your shoulder in fear while you coo at the baby. Lastly, you must help the baby learn how to regulate themselves including developing regular circadian rhythms and sleep.

In short, focus on the "Thrive 5," five conditions to ensure an infant in the first year of life has what they need for healthy development. Those conditions include:

  1. Environmental stimulation
  2. Nutrition
  3. Neighborhood safety
  4. Positive caregiving
  5. Regular circadian rhythms and sleep.

New studies suggest millions with mild cognitive impairment go undiagnosed

Often until it’s too late

Soeren MattkeUniversity of Southern California and Ying LiuUSC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Mild cognitive impairment can be an early sign of
Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.
 ivanastar/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Mild cognitive impairment – an early stage of dementia – is widely underdiagnosed in people 65 and older. That is the key takeaway of two recent studies from our team.

In the first study, we used Medicare data for about 40 million beneficiaries age 65 and older from 2015 to 2019 to estimate the prevalence of mild cognitive impairment in that population and to identify what proportion of them had actually been diagnosed.

Our finding was sobering: A mere 8% of the number of cases with mild cognitive impairment that we expected based on a statistical model had actually been diagnosed. Scaled up to the general population 65 and older, this means that approximately 7.4 million cases across the country remain undiagnosed.

In the second study, we analyzed data for 226,756 primary care clinicians and found that over 99% of them underdiagnosed mild cognitive impairment in this population.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Weekapaug fake fire district drops SLAPP suit against beach access activist

Free speech wins

ACLU of Rhode Island

In a victory against retaliatory lawsuits, the Weekapaug Fire District filed a motion dismissing Westerly resident Caroline Contrata from a lawsuit regarding a highly contentious shore access dispute in the town.

The ACLU of Rhode Island had joined the case to represent Contrata, who was being sued for monetary damages by the District in what the ACLU argued was a SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”) suit intended to chill her from exercising her freedom of speech about this dispute. The ACLU had sought her dismissal from the case under the SLAPP statute.

In December, the Fire District filed this suit in Superior Court against more than 20 defendants, including the Attorney General and the Town of Westerly, for seeking a determination from the Coastal Resources Management Council that a strip of land along the beach at Weekapaug is not purely private. 

Contrata, who had moved to intervene in the proceedings before the CRMC, was the only private individual being sued in the case. In defending Contrata, ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Michael Rubin had argued in a court filing last month that the only reason she was named in the complaint was because she “had the temerity to ask the CRMC to designate a tract that is universally acknowledged as a roadway … as a public right-of-way.”

The ACLU called the dismissal of Contrata from the suit before it proceeded further a victory validating her right to petition the government without retaliation.

In response to the Fire District’s actions, Contrata said today: “With the help of the ACLU, we achieved success in the court case.  Now, I can get back to the merits of the Spring Avenue right-of-way case that is before the CRMC.”

Attorney Rubin added: “I am glad that this local governmental district relented in the case of this brave citizen, Caroline Contrata.”

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said: “The ACLU is very pleased that the Fire District reconsidered its decision to sue Ms. Contrata and has dismissed her from this lawsuit. We commend Ms. Contrata for standing up to the District to vindicate her rights and the rights of others.”

A copy of the District’s motion dismissing Contrata from the case, alongside the ACLU’s memo to dismiss and the Fire District’s initial complaint, can be found here.

Special deal on nuclear secrets

By Matt Wuerker

Republicans just put Social Security squarely on the November ballot

Why We Wait

The Science of Procrastination


Putting off a burdensome task may seem like a universal trait, but new research suggests that people whose negative attitudes tend to dictate their behavior in a range of situations are more likely to delay tackling the task at hand.

The psychological term to describe this mental process is called valence weighting bias, which describes people’s tendency to adapt in new circumstances by drawing more strongly from either their positive or negative attitudes – or, in the context of approaching an unpleasant task, whether negative or positive internal “signals” carry the most weight in guiding the final behavior.

The Battle Between Positivity and Negativity

“And the question is, which wins that battle – if, indeed, there are elements of both positivity and negativity?” said Russell Fazio, senior author and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.

Is “Food as Medicine” a Game Changer for Diabetes?

So far, not really


How much can healthy eating improve a case of diabetes? A new healthcare program attempting to treat diabetes by means of improved nutrition shows a very modest impact, according to the first fully randomized clinical trial on the subject.

The study, co-authored by MIT health care economist Joseph Doyle of the MIT Sloan School of Management, tracks participants in an innovative program that provides healthy meals in order to address diabetes and food insecurity at the same time. The experiment focused on Type 2 diabetes, the most common form.

Wealth of US Billionaires Hits $5.5 Trillion—Up 88% Since Pandemic Hit

The obscenely rich


Four years ago, the United States entered the Covid-19 pandemic. Forbes published its 34th annual billionaire survey shortly after with data keyed to March 18, 2020. On that day, the United States had 614 billionaires who owned a combined wealth of $2.947 trillion.

Four years later, on March 18, 2024, the country has 737 billionaires with a combined wealth of $5.529 trillion, an 87.6 percent increase of $2.58 trillion, according to Institute for Policy Studies calculations of ForbeReal Time Billionaire Data. (Thank you, Forbes!)

The last four years have been great for particular billionaires:

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

What we would expect under a Trump dictatorship

We need to think about the unthinkable


We should already be talking about what it would be like, if Donald Trump wins the 2024 election, to live under a developing autocracy. 

Beyond the publicized plans of those around him to gut the federal civil service system and consolidate power in the hands of You Know Who, under Trump 2.0, so much else would change for the worse.

All too many of us who now argue about the Ukraine and Gaza wars and their ensuing humanitarian crises, about police violence and extremism in the military here at home, about all sorts of things, would no longer share a common language. 

Basics that once might have meant the same thing to you and me, like claiming someone won an election, might become unsafe to mention. In a Trump 2.0 world, more of our journalists would undoubtedly face repercussions and need to find roundabout ways to allude to all too many topics. 

A moving opinion column by the New York Times’s David French, who faced threats for his writing about Donald Trump, highlighted how some who voiced their views on him already need round-the-clock police protection to ensure their safety and that of their family.

I often think about the slippery slope we Americans could soon find ourselves on. After all, from the time Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president in 1999, I spent 20 years traveling to his country and back, working there first as an anthropology doctoral student and later as a human rights researcher. 

I’ve followed Russian politics closely, including as a therapist specializing in war-affected populations, asylum seekers, and refugees. Friends and colleagues of mine there have faced threats to their safety and their careers amid a Kremlin crackdown on public discussion after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and several fled the country with their families in search of safety and a better life.

To be sure, there are many differences between the United States, with its robust democratic tradition, and Russia, which only briefly had competitive elections and a free press. 

Nonetheless, my experiences there offer a warning about how a Trumpian version of top-down rule could someday stifle any possibility of calling out state-sponsored violence for what it is, and what it might feel like if that’s our situation here someday.

Tucker Carlson’s Moscow

On first look, far-right journalist Tucker Carlson’s recent visit to Moscow, covered exuberantly by Russia’s state media, might seem like an example of an American tourist’s naïve glorification of another country’s luxuries. 

Carlson marveled at the fancy tilework of the city’s subway system, visited the national ballet, and noted that you can buy caviar cheaply at the local grocery store. He also pointed out that Moscow’s pristine streets had no homeless people and no apparent poverty.

In the gilded halls of the Kremlin palace, he interviewed President Putin for more than two hours. Despite his guileless expression, Carlson occasionally appeared flummoxed as Putin lectured him endlessly on Russian history and the centuries-old claim he insisted Moscow has on Kyiv as its protector from aggressors near and far. 

Of course, he never challenged Putin on his rationale for invading that country (nor did he refer to it as an invasion) or any of the Russian leader’s other outrageous claims.

I’m of the school of thought that considers Putin’s Russia exactly the sort of anti-woke paradise the MAGA crowd craves. Anyone of Carlson’s age who grew up during the Cold War and turned on his or her television in that pivotal period when the Berlin Wall fell should certainly know that all of Russia doesn’t look anything like what he was shown. 

He should also have known about the recent history of economic “shock therapy” that drained Russian public services of funding and human resources, not to speak of the decades of corruption and unfair economic policies that enriched a choice few in Putin’s circle at the expense of so many.

Of course, something had to happen to turn the Moscow that Carlson saw into a sanitized moonscape. If you haven’t been following developments in Russia under Putin, let me summarize what I’ve noticed.

Protesters — even many going to opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s recent memorial service — have been arrested or at least intimidated when appearing to sympathize with anything that’s not part of the Kremlin’s official pro-Putin ideology. Many groups, from Asian migrants to the homeless, have either been rounded up by the police or at least relocated far out of the view of tourists of any sort. 

In fact, the imprisoned American journalist whom Carlson briefly gestured toward emancipating, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, had written on the practice of zachistki, or mop-up operations by the Russian authorities that, for instance, relocated homeless services to the outskirts of Moscow, far from public view. 

Of course, Gershkovich is now imprisoned indefinitely in Russia on charges of espionage for simply reporting on the war in Ukraine, proving the very point Carlson so studiously avoided, that an endless string of lies underscore Putin’s latest war.

What’s more, amid sub-subsistence wages, housing shortages, and the thin walls of so many city apartments, ordinary Russians are not always able to engage in the “hard conversations” that conservatives like Alabama Senator Katie Britt boast of having in their well-furbished kitchens. After all, neighbors are now encouraged to denounce each other for decrying Russia’s war. (You could, it seems, even end up in prison if your child writes “no to war” on a drawing she did for school.)

There are very personal ramifications to living in an autocracy with which Tucker Carlson and, of course, the Orange Jesus himself are signaling their agreement when they entertain the views of leaders like Vladimir Putin or call Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán “fantastic.” They’re signaling what their end goal is to Americans and, sadly enough, it’s not particularly far-fetched anymore to suggest that, someday, we won’t even have the freedom to talk about all of this with each other.

The Thing That Cannot Be Named

Tucker Carlson at least did his homework. He clearly knew that you couldn’t describe the war in Ukraine as an unprovoked Russian invasion, given that country’s carefully crafted censorship laws.

Since his February 2022 invasion, Putin has referred to it as a “special military operation” focused on the defense of Russia from NATO and the “denazification” of Ukraine. 

During that first spring, the Russian president signed a law forbidding journalists from even calling the invasion a “war,” choosing instead to frame the killing, displacement, abduction, torture, and rape of Ukrainian citizens as a surgical rescue operation provoked by the victims themselves. 

Broader, vaguer censorship laws were then passed, further limiting what Russians of all stripes could say, including one against “discrediting the army,” which imposed stiff fines and prison sentences, and more recently, property confiscations on anyone deemed to have said anything negative about Russia’s armed forces. While the thousands of arrests made may seem modest, given Russia’s 146 million people, it’s still, in my opinion, thousands too many.

The Russian leader’s perverse framing of his unprovoked war is undoubtedly what also allows him to admit that hundreds of thousands of Russians have been killed or wounded so far, something he couldn’t otherwise say. In a country suffused with right-wing Christian nationalism, it also certainly helps his cause that most of Russia’s war dead come from remote, poor, and predominantly minority regions.

This is the sort of muddling of meaning and motives that autocratic leaders engage in to justify deaths of all kinds. American equivalents might be what the MAGA crowds do when they blame the January 6th far-right assault at the Capitol, aimed at police and lawmakers, on the “Antifa,” or extreme leftists, without disputing that people were hurt. 

Or consider then-President Donald Trump’s comment that far-right white supremacist Charlottesville rioters and counter-protesters included “very fine people on both sides” — no matter that one such fine person plowed down a counter-protester in his car, murdering her, or that certain of those “fine” white supremacists espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories considered by some an incitement to violence.

For their part, Russians of various political stripes enjoy an ancient tradition of using dark humor and irony to engage in the kinds of conversations they really want to have. Take as an example the way progressive journalists like those at the news stations TV Rain and Novaya Gazeta (since banned from operating) began discussing the war in Ukraine as “the thing that cannot be named.” Eventually, however, sweeping censorship laws prevented even workarounds like those.

It’s not a small thing to live in a place where you can’t say what you want to for fear of political persecution, especially when you’ve grown up in other circumstances. A good friend of mine who came of age after the fall of the Berlin Wall and led a prosperous, happy life in St. Petersburg, fled the country on the last train out of that city to Helsinki, Finland, her young child in tow. 

Her goal: to start life over from scratch and avoid having to raise her child in a place where he would be brainwashed into thinking Russia’s armed forces and police were infallible and beyond critique. I suspect that many of the hundreds of thousands of Russians who joined her in fleeing the country weren’t that different.

Imagine raising a child whose unquestioning mind you can’t recognize. (That goes for you, too, Trump supporters, because — count on it! — once in office again, he would undoubtedly move toward ending elections as we know them, not to speak of shutting down whatever institutions protect our speech!)

America and the Lie that Begot Other Lies

Events in recent years indicate that Americans — particularly those in the MAGA camp — have grown inured to the public mention of armed violence. Who could forget the moment in 2016 when candidate Trump boasted at a campaign rally before winning the presidency that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”? As racially and politically motivated violence and threats have proliferated, so many of us seemed to grow ever less bothered by both the incidents themselves and the rationales of those who seek to encourage and justify them.

My own adult life began as Vladimir Putin consolidated power in Russia, while former President George W. Bush launched his — really, our — disastrous Global War on Terror, based on lies like that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. 

Unfortunately, we’ve spilled all too little ink here on the nearly one million people who died across our Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African war zones since 2001 (and the many millions more who lost their lives, even if less directly, or were turned into refugees thanks to those wars of ours). 

And don’t forget the more than 7,000 American troops (and more than 8,000 contractors!) who died in the process, essentially baptizing our national lies in pools of blood. And how could that not have helped normalize other lies to come like Trump’s giant one about the 2020 election?

Thankfully, in this country we can still say what we want (more or less). We can still, for instance, call out the Pentagon for underreporting the deaths its forces have caused. In other words, something like the Costs of War Project that I helped to found to put our lies in context can still exist. But how long before such things could become punishable, if not by law, then through vigilantism?

Yes, President Biden is arming Israel in its gruesome fight against Hamas while providing only the most modest aid to Gaza’s war-devastated population, but we can still hold him to account for that. If the 2024 election goes to Donald Trump, how long will that be true? 

If we don’t get to the point right now where all of us are calling out lies all the time, then every Trumpian lie about violence — from Republican members of Congress calling the January 6th rioters “peaceful patriots” to The Donald’s claim that he would only be a dictator on “day one” of his next presidency (a desire supported by a significant majority of Republicans) — will amount to lies as consequential as the 1933 burning of the Reichstag parliament building in Germany, which Hitler’s ascendant Nazi party attributed to communists, setting the stage for him to claim sweeping powers.

We are entering a new and perilous American world and it’s important to grasp that fact. In that context, let me mention a Russian moment when I did no such thing. 

I still feel guilty about a dinner I had with human-rights colleagues in 2014, including a Russian activist who had dedicated his career to documenting political violence and war crimes committed under successive Russian leaders from Joseph Stalin to Vladimir Putin. 

I was sitting at the far end of the table where I couldn’t catch much of the conversation and I joked that I was “out in Siberia.” Yes, my dinner companions graciously laughed, but with an undercurrent of discomfort and tension — and for good reason. 

They knew the dangerous world they were in and, in fact, that very activist has since been sent to a penal colony for his work discrediting the actions of the Russian armed forces. My joke is anything but a joke now and consider that a reminder of how quickly things can change — and not just in Russia, either.

In fact, oppression feels closer than ever in America today and verbal massaging, joking, or willful ignorance can only mask what another Trump presidency could mean for us all.

© 2023

ANDREA MAZZARINO Andrea Mazzarino co-founded Brown University's Costs of War Project. She is an activist and social worker interested in the health impacts of war. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of "War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan" (2019).


Nathan Cooper

Happy 90th birthday!